EDITIONS
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Sabarimala: of spirituality, choices and (lack of) acceptance

Rekha Balakrishnan
2nd Jan 2019
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Many women believe they have the right to choose ‘to wait’ till they are of an appropriate age to visit Sabarimala. Others have rights too, and all the two women did today was to exercise their right to pray. 


I was on the bus to Bengaluru yesterday when I saw thousands of women lined up on both sides of the national highway as part of the Vanitha Mathil (Women’s Wall). As many as 35 lakh women stood shoulder to shoulder across national highways in Kerala to form a 620 km-long ‘wall’ to uphold gender equality, specifically upholding the Supreme Court’s judgement allowing women to enter the Sabarimala shrine in the state. These women made a statement yesterday… only to be treated to a dose of patriarchy today.

The two women under the age of 50 who visited the shrine today and offered prayers did so because the highest law of the land allowed them to. Unfortunately, the temple was closed thereafter to undertake ‘purification’ rituals - just because the women entered the temple. That is just plain sad.

I was seven years old when I first trekked uphill to Sabarimala, as part of the custom in my family to also take girl children to the shrine. 

I was awed by the whole experience. The kettunira (the ritual before one sets off on the pilgrimage), the irumudi on my head, the cold bath at Pampa and finally climbing the hill to the resounding strains of Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa are still etched in my mind like they happened yesterday and not 35 years ago. I remember that a relative had to lift me on his shoulders so that I could see the deity.

Since that day, a strong sense of spirituality has prevailed over who and what I am. An ardent devotee, I spoke to others about it with pride, of how the temple admitted people of every religion into its fold, making no discrimination whatsoever.

I’ve always wanted to go again - just to experience the magic of the devotion I carried within me. So I was happy with the Supreme Court’s decision in September this year to allow women of all ages to enter the shrine even though I did not have any plans of going to Sabarimala anytime soon.

Many women believe they have the right to choose ‘to wait’ till they are of an appropriate age to visit the shrine. Others have rights too, and all the two women did today was to exercise their right to pray.

When my son was 10 years old, he once asked me why I used the word ‘tolerant’. “Shouldn’t we be accepting of others?” he asked.

And that’s what we ask for…acceptance of faith, belief and choices. Only then will the world will truly become a better place for us all.

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